A lesson in critical thinking…

October 7, 2008 at 9:40 pm (*)

I came across this article on Fox news the other day, regarding organic food.  While you read it, I’m going to run down a list of questions you should be asking yourself when you read an article like this (one that quotes studies, statistics, and “experts”).  Come back and run the article through these questions.  Then we’ll talk.

1. Who conducted the study?  Is the laboratory (research center) or company in any way connected to an individual or corporation that will benefit from the outcome?  Where does the lab receive its funding?  For example, ABC Labs is owned by Joe Schmoe who is trying to prove that XYZ is not harmful when taken in small doses.  But oops, Joe Schmoe sits on the board for LMNO Pharmaceuticals, whose company makes XYZ and would like the FDA to approve their product.  Yes, it happens.  All the time.  Additionally, who is interpreting the results?

2.  What controls are being used for the study?   Are random samples truly random?  Do they accurately represent the population being studied?  I know very little about how a study should be conducted, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that sometimes controls and variables are loosely defined in such a way that it’s passing the test based on a technicality.  For example, if studying the difference between a “naturally” grown product and one, uh, “unnaturally” grown, you should know that the FDA very loosely defines the term “natural”.

3.  Should you trust everything the FDA or USDA says?  Consider where they get their funding.  Consider whose interest they are really protecting.  Let me tell you, friends, it’s not yours.  It’s not the consumer’s.  They are protecting the economy, large corporations, and industries dependent upon subsidies.

4.  In the study, which outcome are they trying to prove?  In many cases, shouldn’t they just be looking for and reporting the results?

Again, I’m not a scientist and I don’t claim to be an expert at conducting research.  But please don’t believe everything you read/hear/see in mainstream media.  My list of questions is not exhaustive, just a place to start.  Ask questions!!!

So, if you take the above article and run it through a few critical thinking questions, here’s what I see:

1.  Most of this article is based on information obtained from the Hudson Institute for Global Food Issues.  A quick search reveals that the Hudson Institute receives its funding via “donations” from large corporations such as:

  • Eli Lilly– a pharmaceutical company (we can thank Eli Lilly for developing thimerosal to put in vaccines..do NOT get me started there!)
  • Cargill – a large, privately held corporation with their hands in almost every industry: food and fast food (corn products), agriculture (corn), health and pharmaceutical (corn), energy (corn again)
  • Proctor & Gamble – a large corporation specializing in consumer goods whose brands include Dawn, Crest, Bounty, Secret, Vicks, and Gillette
  • Monsanto – the company that brings us Roundup (um, yep…that’s herbicides and pesticides), as well as genetically engineered seeds and bovine growth hormone (rBGH)

They wouldn’t stand to gain (or lose) anything based on the research done by HI, would they?  I’ve only given you a few.  Honestly, to me, this information alone discredits most of the article.  To further illustrate my point, it is easily revealed that one of Hudson Institute’s former executives worked for Eli Lilly.  He is now the Governor of Indiana, focusing on the state’s agricultural sector.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing?

Should you believe the HI “expert” who says there’s not a lick of evidence to support the benefit of organic food?  Should you believe him when he says organic food is more likely to carry dangerous bacteria because the fertilizer is toxic?

2. Are the samples used in these studies (that don’t provide a lick of evidence) from a large organic corporation (who is using the term “organic” based on a technicality)?  Or are the samples coming from a small sustainable farm who, by the way, may not qualify to be certified organic based on a technicality?  (Now is a good time for me to state that I’m not necessarily endorsing “BIG” organic food, but we’ll get to that in a another post).  Are the studies boosting conventionally grown food based on produce grown in the fields subsidized by the government?  Owned by Cargill or ConAgra?

3. Does the USDA organic standard hold any weight?  Really?  To be considered USDA organic, only 95% of a product’s ingredients has to be organic.  Most pesticides are not allowed, but some are.  An animal only has to have access to the outdoors.  Should we really consider this to be organic?

4.  In reference to organic milk and there not being any difference, while I wasn’t able to immediately find which lab conducted the quoted findings, you can bet there are suspicious ties.  I would imagine they set out to prove there is no difference.

Please just ask questions.  It’s critical thinking and common sense, really.

Now, on the flip side, the article does bring up semi-valid points about food safety and nutrition.  Wash your produce, organic or not.  Realize that buying organic potato chips fried in corn oil is probably not much better than non-organic baked potato chips.

With that said, some day soon I will add a few tips for healthy shopping.  Not necessarily organic.

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